Monday Motivation: Write your way to happiness
Today I am venturing into the tricky waters of self-helpiness… Although, to be honest, I guess that everything I’ve ever written for this blog – which claims to have magical motivational properties – has been about self-improvement in the field of writing.
Today, though, I might just be pushing those boundaries a little, beyond the field of writing into the sunny uplands of life.
But then, I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between writing and life. Fiction, I argued the other day, bears the sort of relationship to life that mathematical models do to the physical structures of the universe.
But let’s stick with self-help for the moment.
We write stories about other people doing things that, while they might more or less be inspired by, or based on, the things that we do and have experienced, are also products of our imagination.
Inevitably, though, these are also stories about ourselves, and about the way we think and feel. There’s simply no getting away from this. (Which is why I believe that all creative writing is therapeutic.)
But some stories – they’re usually not the stories we write, but the stories we tell ourselves (and sometimes others) – are more explicitly about us. I’m not talking only about memoirs and autobiographies, which constitute a more public expression of our own life stories.
No, I’m talking about the more insidious stories we tell ourselves. The ones we whisper to ourselves when no one else is listening. The stories that are hardly distinguishable from what we might imagine are facts.
Take a tiny example. We frequently come across people on our courses and our mentoring programmes who discover that it’s quite permissible to self-identify as writers. “I’ve always written,” one said, “but I’ve never considered myself a writer.” In the story of her life, she’d identified the protagonist as an… accountant, or a… mother, or a… whatever. And yet writing, by her own admission, was a consuming passion, it was something she could not resist doing.
Retelling the story of her life as a writer turned everything around. She has a day job – most writers do – but when she writes, she is a writer. That act of self-naming is liberating.
I heard an interview this week with a man who studies luck. He’s a professor of psychology here in the UK, a man whose name in and of itself inspires confidence: he’s Prof Richard Wiseman. He believes, as I do, that the stories we tell ourselves can have a profound effect on not only how lucky we are, but how successful and satisfying our lives can be.
How do you increase your luck, he asks? Well, open yourself to opportunities and make the most of them. Embrace new experiences and feel optimistic about your prospects. Be resilient when, inevitably, bad things happen. Trust your deepest intuitions…
But also, fundamentally, tell yourself stories about yourself that feed you rather than deplete you.
“We tell ourselves who we are and who other people are; when we tell our story to others, they start treating us in that way. So you tell people you’re unlucky, and people start remembering the things that didn’t work out so well for you…”
What’s astonishing about the human mind, argues Wiseman, is the fact that we can alter the stories we tell about ourselves and in so doing have a real impact on our happiness and success.
As writers, we are storytellers. We tell stories about fictional characters in fictional worlds. But in the shadows, we also drum up a tale about ourselves. It makes every kind of sense to take charge of this secondary narrative and tell a story about ourselves that makes us happier, wiser and possibly even a little bit wealthier.
Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: The problem with the holy trinity of writing advice‘
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